Making political films politically?
The film-making practice of Jean-Luc Godard.

Cannon, S.,
1993, A6. Ph.D., Aston – 43-5225.

This thesis attempts to re-examine the work of Jean-Luc Godard and in particular the claims which have been made for it as the starting-point for a revolutionary cinema.

This re-examination involves, firstly, a critical summary of the development of Structuralist thinking, from its origins in linguistics, with Saussure, through to its influence on Marxism, with Althusser. It is this ‘Structural Marxism’ which prepared the ground for a view of Godard as a revolutionary film-maker so its influences on film theory in the decade after 1968 is traced in journals such as Cahiers du Cinema and Screen and in the work of their editors and contributors.

Godard’s relationship with such theories was a complex one and some of the cross-breeding is revealed in a brief account of his own ideas about his film-making. More important, however is his practice as a committed ‘political’ film-maker between 1968 and 1972 which is analysed in terms of the responses it makes to the cultural opportunities offered in the period after the revolutionary situation of May 1968.

The severe problems revealed by that analysis may be partially resolved in Godard’s greatest ‘political’ achievement Tout va bien, but a comparative analysis proves that in earlier ‘a-political’ films such as Vivre sa vie, he was creating more meaningful and perhaps even more revolutionary art, whose formal experimentation is more organically linked to its subject and whose ability to communicate ideas far oustrips the later work.

In conclusion some indications are suggested of a more fruitful basis for Marxist theories of art than Structural variants, seeking a non-formalist approach in the work of Marx, of Trotsky, of Brecht and Lukàcs.

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Last updated: 15.2.2005